One of the prominent leaders in the struggle for Indian independence, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was an eminent scholar and poet as well. Despite being born and brought up in a strictly conservative environment, he was able to achieve a broader, pragmatic perspective towards religion and social development. His staunch faith in the concept of Hindu-Muslim unity gained him the veneration of the Hindus and made his name synonymous with communal harmony.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born in Makkah (Saudi Arabia) on 11th November, 1888. His father was a Bengali Muslim of Afghani descent while his mother was of Arab origin. His father’ family had migrated to Mecca during the Sepoy Mutiny and returned to Calcutta in 1890.
During his childhood, he received home schooling chiefly from his father and a few other highly knowledgeable teachers. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was taught subjects like Persian, Arabic, mathematics, philosophy, algebra, and geometry. By making efforts all by himself, he garnered knowledge in politics, global history, and English language.
Metamorphosis into a revolutionary
Though his upbringing was rather orthodox and his education was aimed at making him a clergyman, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did not leave any stone unturned to broaden his horizons. He interpreted the Holy Quran in his own words. He championed for the principle of Tajdid i.e. improvement renouncing the norm of Taqliq that means conformity. His interest in the pan-Islamic principles of the scholars like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Jamaluddin Afghani took him to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Turkey. He hobnobbed with several revolutionaries and came back to India complete with radical ideas.
Participation in the freedom struggle
He came in contact with Aurobindo Ghosh and Shyam Sundar Chakrovarty, prominent revolutionaries in Bengal. This meeting prompted Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to join the struggle for independence. He facilitated the spreading of radical activities from Bengal and Bihar to Bombay and across north India by starting secret centers. His presence in these revolutionary activities helped change the hostile attitude of most radicals towards the Muslims. He broke the myth that British Raj was exploiting the Muslim community to paralyze the freedom struggle.
He started journals like Al-Hilal and Al-Balagh that propagated Hindu-Muslim unity and independence from the foreign rule, in extremist language. He was sent to prison for spreading secessionism. He was released in 1920.
Soon, through his Khilafat Movement, he expressed his support for the re-instating of Khalifa as the head of British invaded Turkey. In 1920, he joined Indian National Congress and took part vehemently in Salt Satyagraha. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was chosen as the president in 1940 and stayed so until 1946. Partition of India was a huge setback for him, as he believed in unified existence of Hindus and Muslims.
Cabinet minister in independent India
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is the first Minister of Education of India after independence. He held this office until 1958 in the cabinet of the first prime minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. He expired in 1958 due to a stroke. In 1992, he was conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously for his outstanding contribution to the building of Indian nation.